The Emergency Broadcasting System alarm message is the absolute last thing you want to hear when you’re on a long drive with two children, and one of them has just asked to stop somewhere because she has to go to the bathroom.
Tornado immediately takes my mind down a path of images of an F5 that tears up towns all around Helen Hunt. Warning tells me conditions aren’t just conducive, but that something has been spotted.
I knew the weather report called for rain, but that rain was scheduled for at least a couple hours later. It was dusk and not raining, but the sky did look a little odd. I found myself in the position of wanting not to alarm the girls while also wanting more info so I could make the best decision about what to do. Should I stop somewhere and hope that our luck was a little better than that of Cary Elwes, or keep moving to hopefully put distance between us and the storms?
I asked Ella to Google the area and see what she could find out. The answer: three funnels, although pretty far away. That made the decision to keep driving very easy – we could add some distance between us and those storms and keep making progress toward home. And I had about 10 minutes of pleasant driving, feeling good about my decision, before the sky became dark and the rain began to pound onto the windshield.
And when I say dark with pounding rain, I mean I and the other drivers around me turned on hazard lights and moved slowly over to the far right of I64. The rain hitting the car was intense and visibility was bad, and Audrey became frightened. I’m not sure what I said, but I found my “everything’s fine” Mommy voice and produced words to encourage her and assure her we were fine. The special lights the triangle button makes tell people where we are, and we’re all together, and the other cars are in it with us, and this is part of our adventure, and even though the rain is noisy the really bad part of the storms is far away, and this rain is going to make sure great flowers grow soon, and we’re fine.
I had no idea if she really believed my complete load of crap. I didn’t have the luxury of turning around to make eye contact. I had to be mindful that my body language was in line with my voice and did not show unease, I had to focus my external attention on the road, and I had to focus my internal attention on prayer.
And when I say prayer, I don’t mean Dear God It’s me Beth and it would be nice if this storm calmed down a bit. I was praying hard. More like, This is awful. Get us out of this. Please. Quickly. How did Jesus sleep through storms? And calm me down, too. I need help to stay calm because this is awful and the girls don’t need to know how awful it is. How could this happen at the end of our awesome spring break? Please. Please. Please. Keep us safe. Keep us calm. Are you there?! This is so bad.
The noise from the rain on the car seemed angry, and was adding to our tension. So I hit the button to switch from radio to ipod to try to put a soothing sound in the car. A recent addition to our song library came on, It Is Well – a worship song that samples the old hymn It Is Well With My Soul. The song’s beginning is quiet, with little instrumentation, and the singer almost seems like she’s praying quietly to herself, so you have to kind-of focus on her soft voice to hear the words.
And at the exact same moment, a couple minutes into the song, Ella and I started singing: “Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you. Through it all, through it all, it is well…the waves and wind still know His name.”
Just a few weeks ago, I learned the story of the man who penned It Is Well With My Soul, Horatio Spafford. He wrote the words during a time of personal tragedy, just after the loss of his children. I cried when I heard my friend Anne tell the story, and again later when relating it to Ella. It really is *that* moving. How can someone, anyone, have so much faith during a time of such profound darkness and despair?
As Ella and I were singing the song, peace filled me. In part because I needed something besides the storm to focus my brain on. In part because the song itself is quiet and calming. And in part because I had this sudden realization about a needed shift in my life, specifically as it relates to faith and prayer.
I talk to my girls about God and faith and prayer, and I take them to church and we say prayers before bed and we sometimes even pray that we’ll find the missing book we need before we leave in the morning. But there’s a big part of me that I have not shared with them yet, and that’s how I pray and how often I pray. And a dark truth – that sometimes I don’t have total faith in my prayers.
I have always been alone with my prayers. In my own head. In my own space. I typically don’t share them or talk about them, out of habit more than anything else. At home I didn’t talk about my prayers because I wasn’t surrounded by people who take faith seriously or because it seemed like the girls were too little for that big stuff, and at work it’s not always appropriate to share that kind of thing.
I talk to God all the time, all throughout the day. It’s more like an ongoing conversation where I sometimes get louder if I think God isn’t listening. It’s what you might call cerebral prayer – a mixture of my nature to rely on facts and data, with faith in a God that doesn’t always need my facts and data, with my impatience in a God that doesn’t always move as quickly as I’d like. If you charted my faith, it hasn’t grown in the nice upward lines we like to see in financial documents. It’s up and down, sometimes all in one day.
My faith isn’t perfect. I don’t always believe everything will work out the way we want and pray for. Sometimes when I hear about a horrible diagnosis, my initial reaction is not for a miracle but that some people get their healing in heaven instead of here. I wish I could say that I have the kind of faith that moves mountains, but I don’t. But what I’ve realized is that my girls don’t need to see my faith or prayer perfection, which is not real. I don’t want them to think that perfection is the standard and that if they don’t have 100% faith they are a failure, or there’s no reason to have any faith if they can’t have full faith. They need to see my work in progress faith, because that’s real. And seeing what’s real is in part what will enable them to embrace work in progress faith in their own lives.
It’s OK to pray when I don’t know what to say or how to say it or have doubts. It’s OK to pray without the formalities of intros like Dear Heavenly Father and for me to speak like I’m talking to my friend in Colorado. It’s OK to pray and admit to God and everyone that I am afraid even though I’m praying. It’s OK to offer a song as a prayer, showing my daughter that sometimes – many times – I don’t have words, and other peoples words are the best words.
Within just a few minutes, the rain seemed less ominous around the car. The sky was a little lighter. Cars were spreading back out across all the lanes of the highway, and started moving more quickly. Our storm had actually passed pretty quickly. Ella and I talked a little about the scary few minutes and the song and our singing the waves and wind verse at the same time – one of the most memorable moments from the trip. And then I turned around to check on Audrey, wondering at how quiet she had been, and found that she was fast asleep. While I had been fearful during the worst part of the storm, struggling in my cerebral prayer, Audrey had fallen asleep…childlike faith at 100%.